Mosaic Stories

    Angel Zeng

    St. Louis has a long-standing reputation as a hub for plant science -- home to many organizations developing nutrition and health solutions for global populations. Angela Zeng is one of the success stories, delivering on that promise with an award-winning line of plant-based beverages made in small batches out of her growing and production facility in the City of St. Louis.

    Her early fascination with ailments and cures as a child growing up in China led to her academic studies and career in St. Louis, where she earned her PhD in pathology from Saint Louis University School of Medicine, before completing her post-doctoral studies at Northwestern University and her MBA from Washington University’s Olin School of Business. This impressive academic resume backs her extraordinary drive to deliver a truly distinct product in the over-crowded juice and smoothie category.

    Throughout her academic pursuits, Angela maintained a strong interest in nontraditional medicine, a passion which would inform her development of the Karuna brand. “The first recipes were based on my herbal collections, awareness of ancient medical remedies, and my research,” she says.

    Angela’s business career includes holding leadership positions in several large corporations. It was through her role as president of Hengtong Juice USA, Inc., in which she led the American branch of a major Chinese juice producer, that she began to formulate the initial ideas for her own beverage line.

    The resulting product, Karuna, consists of whole plant-based prebiotic and antioxidant juices and smoothies available for sale at most grocery stores in Saint Louis, including Whole Foods, Dierbergs, Schnucks, and Fresh Thyme. The brand recently expanded throughout Texas and is available everywhere via Amazon.

    “The brand is focused on the ancient wisdom that food is better medicine — we even trademarked that philosophy,” Zeng says, explaining, “it’s not just food is medicine, lots of people believe that. But if you eat right, based on medical science and nutritional science, you can prevent chronic disease, so actually food is better medicine.”

    In the Buddhist tradition, the word Karuna means compassion, which, as she sees it, includes consumers’ compassion toward their own health as well as toward other people, creatures, and nature.

    One example of the “Karuna” philosophy is its eco-friendly production practices such as hydroponically growing one of the drinks’ main ingredients — organic bean sprouts — inside their factory. Because the sprouts don’t require any transportation or storage, they save a considerable amount of energy.

    “I’m a believer that the majority of food waste can be avoided if we design the food manufacturing process mindfully, not just doing whatever is easy or low-cost,” Zeng says.

    Like many St. Louis parents, Zeng cherishes the region’s family friendly culture, relative low cost of living, and strong education system. In fact, these assets are largely why she and her husband relocated from Chicago. Further, she says the Saint Louis Mosaic Project has provided her with a unique chance to get to know other local entrepreneurs and offer advice to those who are just starting out.

    “The project really offers [me and my husband] opportunities to put our faces in front of the community and socialize,” she says, noting they didn’t previously make much time for networking as they were used to spending any free time with their two children, ages 14 and 11.

    What does the future hold for Karuna? “I look forward to continue to expand across the country and launch new products from our home here in St. Louis. I love to create new blends and I’m just so grateful for the support from consumers who are health conscious, who want to do something right for their bodies, who are believers in compassion.”


    Interviewed and Written by Ginger O'Donnell